Tuesday, March 07, 2006

We're Not the Fortunate Ones

Once upon a time in a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, a doctor I couldn't pick out of a lineup lifted a sheet, took a look at a watermelon-shaped thing I will never see and offered a pronouncement.

Dr. Who-ever: We'll be here another hour.
Tata: Oh. No. We. Won't.

Miss Sasha made her stunning debut eight minutes later. I'd had one epidural before the nurses lost Miss Sasha's heart rate on some monitor and refused to give me anaesthesia for hours. When I tell you pain is bothering me I'm not comparing it to that time I spiral-fractured my hand and walked away laughing. I'm not comparing it to my arthritis, which has sometimes been so bad I couldn't walk. No, those kinds of pain are relatively minor compared with the spine-splitting, bone-cracking, gut-bursting, blood-spattered agony that is pushing a human head down a birth canal, through the pelvic bones and out a fleshy little opening that often tears itself open in self-defense. She was three weeks late. When I tell you pain is bothering me I fucking mean it.

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones with testicles who never gets mammograms. I don't know how, but somehow this is your fault. If you work for an insurance company, this is definitely your fault.

Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Just because your doctor prescribes it doesn't mean the test is approved.
Tata: A mammogram?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: That I'm supposed to get every year?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: Do you realize how stupid that sounds?

I have no doubt that asshole has a brilliant career ahead of him, denying poor women health care - bilking the elderly will just be gravy for him! So if you have testicles, keep in mind that 1% of breast cancers are diagnosed in men and they're particularly dangerous because if you can believe it apparently men don't grope themselves enough to notice changes in their breasts and follow through with doctor appointments so - men! Get groping and make an appointment. And then you had better make sure if you work in a health insurance company that you freaking take vigorous steps to retrain that idiot phone guy.

For those of you without testicles, which is to say non-men, or "women" - your health issues are apparently so complex and icky that whole frigging states refuse to treat your bodies like they're human. And yet, once you turn forty, you're going to march yourself once a year to a clinic or hospital with a radiology department, where technicians with varying degrees of skill and emotional investment in their jobs may or may not actually make eye contact when they ask a list of perfunctory questions before walking up behind you, grabbing one of your breasts in a decidedly untingly, romantic manner and no matter how many times you've done this it doesn't get any better when the clinical hand on your breast squeezes really hard, places the breast on a tray, lowers a shelf onto the breast and smashes it flat. Then the technician says, "Now hold still and don't breathe."

Some people who get mammograms, which is to say mostly women, dislike having their breasts mashed between a tray and a moving shelf multiple times and from various angles but it doesn't actually hurt them. Before today, the last time I went to the radiology to have my breasts mashed the technician was utterly indifferent, her technique was poor, multiple re-takes were required and though I don't cry I considered weeping but would have preferred to punch her in the face until she pretended to care. Or pressed charges. Because it would actually be funny to be arrested half-naked for performing the service to womankind that would be assaulting a crappy mammo tech until she got the idea that perhaps philately - say - held a certain charm. In Borneo. Please note I did not cry, punch anyone in the face, or get arrested for the Cause. No. I did what my grandmother Edith did many times through painful medical tests: made meaningful eye-contact, gritted my teeth and said, "Finish your job. Now." I am not a wuss. That really hurt. In the course of someone else's cancer treatment, it came up with the oncologist that MRIs do a better job of detecting lumps earlier. My insurance company wouldn't spring for it, even when my doctor insisted.

Now if you have engineering prowess and some acquaintance with breasts, perhaps you've realized by now you could make a fortune by designing an inexpensive, pain-free technology. Perhaps, if you're really smart, you could redesign MRIs so a person with or without testicles but certainly with breasts could step into it like a closet, get scanned - NNNRRRRRRRRRRRFFFFP! - and be pronounced sick or healthy with a great degree of accuracy; bonus points for making it sound better than an X-soaked drum circle. As insurance plans go, mine is pretty good, reasonably priced and a bigger pain in the ass each time I try to use it. I suppose I could have an MRI if I could pay for it, but if mammograms don't work on me - witness the re-takes - why am I supposed to keep dicking around with them? And for how long? It is cost-effective for the insurance company to pat me on the head until I have full-blown cancer?

Am I pissed? Yes, I am pissed. I am royally pissed. It's not women operating insurance companies, medical technology firms, board rooms, courts and legislatures. I am sick of shouting from the rooftops while the basement floods and drowning people declare there's nothing to worry about. If I ever, ever have a pile of money, I'm creating women's scholarships to M.I.T., with a heavy concentration in civic-minded Get Us the Hell Out Of This Mess.

As Ken Lay's trial proceeds, Tom Delay won his primary yesterday. I would like to maintain a positive outlook (these things will take care of themselves) but I see them as symptoms of corruption, selfishness and greed in our society. FEMA trailers are sinking into mud in Arkansas rather than house Katrina survivors in Mississippi and Louisiana. These events are not happening in a vacuum, and I can't look at current events and stay calm anymore. It's time for a giant game of Connect the Dots, starting with painful, inappropriate medical tests for which I'm supposed to be grateful, and ending with bankrupt energy companies in California, with stops for complaints about pesky trees at the National Forest Service, port insecurity, 2000 missing people after six months, anti-gay bills in dozens of states, secret wiretapping programs and breathtaking defenses that violate our Constitution, a Congress that has all but abdicated its responsibilities, a stacked Supreme Court and anti-abortion bills that will set back the cause of women 32 years. These things are all part of a pattern of behavior. A pattern of fear and greed. To oppose one thing should be to oppose the pattern, the disease in all its symptomatic forms. And yet, what I hear at every turn is, "Yeah, but if we just wait a little longer..."

And that is how we are beaten. Separated and beaten.


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